Making It Work:
Structuring and Organizing Programs Throughout the Year
Many music educators face the conundrum of how to make programs and concerts work for the children, families, school culture and capacity constraints of school performance spaces. There are many factors that may not be negotiable; in some schools the format is free and easy. Every situation will be different, but this is how I “Make it Work.”
I teach third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade general music, choir, as well as fifth and sixth grade beginning band and orchestra. I have four homeroom classes in each grade level. It is important to me that every child has an opportunity to share their learning at least once each school year. The band, orchestra, and choir perform twice each year, once in the winter and once in the spring. I also feel strongly about keeping the concert to an hour or less. I am allowed no rehearsal time in the performance space or any time to practice outside of my scheduled music class. The program runs from beginning to end for the first time during “dress rehearsal,” and the whole school is there to watch. Lastly, I have a “café-gym-atorium” situation, which is not large and has a ridiculously small stage.
I have five scheduled performances in my school building this year. We hold two winter concerts in January and two spring concerts in May. The first concert will feature the choir and one class from 4th, 5th and 6th grade general music. The Second winter concert features the instrumental music students and a different class from 4th, 5th and 6th grade general music. The remaining classes are included on the spring concerts in the same manner. Third grade was added to my intermediate building this year. My first thought was to add one class to each of the existing concerts. The space limitations of the gym made it necessary for me to add a separate 3rd grade performance in March.
Choose a Theme
I choose a theme for each concert (winter and spring). The children and I create a selection for performance that addresses content, and meets my curricular goals and state standard requirements. All four classes at each grade level complete the same project in our classroom. The “performing” classes use the concert as their final product. The other two classes share their final product in our classroom. We video record each performance and the children self assess using a rubric that they create. I ask the children for feedback on the project. Then I reflect on its success and make note of where I need to make improvements for the next project.
This year our Winter Concert theme is New Year Celebrations. The fourth grade children are working on a project that celebrates Chinese New Year, and also reinforces melodic and rhythmic learning goals. Fifth grade is using creative movement, composition, and improvisation on barred instruments and recorders to bring to life a picture book about the winter solstice. This meets a multitude of standards and learning targets. Students in sixth grade general music are learning an Afro-Cuban selection with singing, drums, bell and movement that is used to celebrate the New Year. This aligns with our focus on world music.
Each class begins with the same foundation and premise for the projects, and the children make the creative decisions. The winter solstice story will be performed twice – by two different fifth grade classes – but each performance will be unique. The children have become used to this and look forward to seeing how each class puts their own spin on the content. We will do the same thing again in the spring, where the theme is “Trees” and the remaining classes perform on stage. The third grade children will have a separate performance where we create a final product inspired by a picture book.
Things to Consider
When deciding how to structure performances for your school there are a few things to consider. First, what are the non-negotiable circumstances for your teaching situation? Write down the things that you are unable to change or influence at this time. Second, what are your non-negotiable terms? Write down the aspects of the performances that are important to you. Include how many late nights (if you do evening concerts) are workable for you and your family. Next, if at all possible, schedule performances as far in advance as you can. Make sure everyone knows the dates and times – including parents. Lastly, find a way to organize what the content of each performance will be. Plan ahead as much as is feasible. Choosing a theme helps me to focus my ideas and collect projects and lessons that fit the theme and my learning targets over time. After considering each of these items, approach administration with your plan of action and be ready to discuss the reasoning behind your ideas.
Every school has different expectations for school performances. This is just one possible solution. Please share your ideas for scheduling and organizing concerts and performances throughout the year in the comments below. We can all help each other to “Make It Work”.